After months of patronizing the resident pod of food trucks parked at 108th and Q, The Reader was finally able to sit down with the innovators behind Trucks and Taps. A year that made outdoor dining the only eating-out option made this food truck park a no-brainer for quick bites, grab and go, and a cocktail on the patio.
With spacious seating and a full bar, Trucks and Taps is a significant step forward in Omaha’s truck food scene, which until recent years has consisted of a handful of brave souls keeping their meals on wheels with little more than grit and good intentions. While the short roster of trucks available to us were well-loved, they were not well-regulated, well-advertised or well-supported. You can’t patronize a truck you can’t find, and you can’t find a truck that didn’t show up to its scheduled stop because of a flat tire.
While these intrepid chefs kept trucking along, Metropolitan Community College culinary grad Isaiah Renner was paying his dues on the Omaha restaurant circuit. Stints at Nosh, The Grey Plume and Kitchen Table built the foundation that helped him launch Daily Grind, a homestyle cafe at 7171 Mercy Rd.
“It was my bread and butter, but it wasn’t my cup of tea,” Renner said. “But it was a step in the process that made a lot of things possible.”
Fish and Chips and a Chance Encounter
One of those things was the Dire Lion Grille and Chippy. Renner’s food truck got off the ground through the use of the commissary kitchen at Daily Grind. All food trucks are required to prep in a health-department-approved kitchen, which the commissary kitchen provided. Most food truck proprietors will tell you that a proper prep area can be hard to come by. Renner pulled double duty, spreading himself thin between Daily Grind and Dire Lion, while looking for someone to take the reins on the former.
Renner’s odd hours and creative energy resulted in a fortunate encounter with Omaha musician, engineer and energy activist Jessica Errett. The pair exchanged vows in August 2019, and the union has proven just as fortuitous to Omaha as it was for the Renners. Soon, the truly dynamic duo were ready to do more than pledge their undying love for one another, they vowed to tackle construction headaches, health inspections, sweaty summer days and the paperwork involved in starting a business together.
A Lean, Green BBQ Machine
Kevin Wyatt had his sights set on a food truck, as well, but there was no manual, organization or support to show him the steps needed to make it happen. Even when opportunity didn’t knock, Wyatt found the door.
“There was a food truck that was parked in a driveway nearby and finally I walked up and knocked on the door,” Wyatt said. “I wanted to know everything — what are the regulations, where can I park a food truck, how or where do I register it? At the time, there wasn’t a better way to get that information.”
Through trial and error, and the courage to ask a lot of questions along the way, Wyatt and his wife, Gail, launched Big Green Q food truck in 2016.
While the Omaha Food Truck Association has worked hard to create regulations and support for food trucks, one thing has been missing for the fleet of food factories: a community. The Omaha restaurant industry has become the living, breathing, thriving machine it is because of the chefs working together and building it into what it’s become. Food truck proprietors have been islands unto themselves – until now.
The Renners and Wyatts pooled their knowledge, resources and networks to create Trucks and Taps. The spot features four anchor trucks: Dire Lion, Big Green Q, Modern Waffle and newcomer Burning Bridges. In addition to its anchors, the spot has a rotating roster of trucks guest starring Tuesdays through Sundays.
“We wanted to have a place where people had everything they needed, an energy source, a kitchen, a bar and a great seating area,” Renner said. “But we also wanted to offer other people what we didn’t have. We wanted to give them our experiences so they weren’t starting from scratch. They were starting with everything we knew, and they were building from there.”
Trucks and Taps opened in July 2020, a hard time for any new venture, but Renner is the first to spot the silver lining.
“We knew we were lucky to have this means to continue serving,” he said. “Things were changing day to day, but we knew what we wanted, and we were kind of uniquely equipped to make this work.”
The outdoor food truck hall has capacity for up to 10 trucks, and the team has plans to host events in the adjoining green space as COVID-19 cases continue to drop. The bar features fresh-squeezed juices and local booze and beer on tap, as well as canned cocktails for those who want to dash and dine.
A Growing Community
Access to the resources provided by the two couples does more than create space for more food trucks to thrive; it creates an environment where each chef has the tools to flourish creatively.
“Support will always be the way to strengthen a community,” Jessica Errett Renner said, “and we’ve definitely seen it here. This space serves as a kind of incubator, where people are sharing and growing their ideas.”
Rather than a competitive air, the truck owners see one another as helpful, luring in customers they may not have had contact with otherwise.
“People are visiting one truck for their appetizers and then another for barbeque or sides,” said Wyatt. “Nobody has to fight about where to go, you’ve got options and you can pick and choose between menus.”
“We’ve seen a very different crowd since landing here,” he added. “We’re seeing parents with their kids, just happy to be out of the house but still outside. We’re seeing grandparents out enjoying the day and getting lunch together. A lot of young people.”
And with COVID-19 restrictions lifting and warm nights heading our way, 2021 is promising to be the summer of the food truck.
The ceaselessly smiling owners of Trucks and Taps took turns interrupting our conversation to ogle the furry companions their diners had brought onto the patio, answer questions from the staff at the bar or greet regulars as they settled in with their food truck finds. The smiles aren’t pride, but gratitude that their efforts to create a safe, reliable space for these vendors have proven to be successful.
For a schedule of food trucks, information about hours or to access online menus, visit trucksandtapsomaha.com.